Friday, October 30, 2009

Katie in London

Emmy is absolutely thrilled when a piece of mail, with her name written on it, is in our mailbox. So when a special package arrived from her best friend, Besh, she was ecstatic. With great ceremony, the package was brought into the house and placed carefully onto the coffee table.
"Can we open it now, Mommy."
As each item was taken out of the large envelope, Emmy gasped and clapped her hands.
"Oh, look what Beshaboo sent to me."
The package contained treasures from Besh's recent trip to London. Included in the package were photos, notes of his adventures, a special rock and a wonderful book. As I watched Emmy's reaction, I sent out a wish to every child in the world so that he or she could have the opportunity for such a special relationship as Emmy has with her friend Besh.

The book Besh picked out is a big hit with Emmy! We read it first thing in the morning, before naptime, after naptime and at bedtime. The book is treasured not only because it's from her best friend, but also because it takes her on a wonderful adventure to a faraway place.

Katie in London, by James Mayhew, is a creatively written travel guide through the city of London. Katie, along with her grandmother and little brother, Jack, set off to see the sights of the city beginning with Trafalgar Square. Upon arriving at the square, Katie's grandmother sits down to rest and asks the children to stay near the lion statue. With the morning sun, the lion awakens to find the children climbing on him. The children ask the lion to show them the sights so off they go visiting such places as Tower Bridge, the London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Harrods department store. Besh's Mommy included photos of his trip for Emmy to compare with the illustrations. Matching the photos with the illustrations is a favorite activity for Emmy. And if asked what her favorite part of the story is, she will say when the lion opens his package from Katie and Jack and finds a woolly blanket.

When James Mayhew was a boy in school he was often told to stop daydreaming. Thankfully his daydreams didn't stop and instead have helped him to create a series of books about Katie. These books masterfully weave art, ballet, opera and literature into Katie's adventures. Each story is brilliantly written allowing a child to feel as if they too are experiencing the wonders that Katie is so joyfully experiencing. When asked where the idea for Katie came from, Mr. Mayhew replied, "Obviously my sister Kate was an inspiration! But also, I remember my parents had a big 'coffee table' book called Art Treasures of the World, which I still have to this day. It had all the usual art from Pre-historic man through the Renaissance to Impressionism and to Picasso and the Twentieth Century. I had no idea what the paintings were about; I couldn't read. But the paintings were illustrations to me, and I imagined the stories that belonged with them." Who would have thought that looking through an old book of art would be so important to a little child?

Also a huge inspiration for Mr. Mayhew's work are childhood memories. Here is a photo taken of a five year old James with his mischievious seven year old sister, Katie, in front of one of the lions of Trafalgar Square. James recalls spending the entire day in London with his family which was quite an event since they lived in a tiny village miles from anywhere.

From daydream to reality, Mr. Mayhew's first book in the Katie series, Katie's Picture Show, follows a small, lively girl and her grandmother as they visit a London art gallery on a rainy afternoon. When Grandma sits down to rest, Katie continues to explore the gallery's wonders alone. To her surprise and amusement, she stumbles inside painting after painting. As a result, she enjoys a cup of tea with Ingres' Madame Moitessier, befriends the little girl in Renoir's Les Parapluies, explores Rousseau's Tropical Storm with a Tiger, and marvels at the contents of an abstract painting by Malevich before being rescued, finally, by a gallery guard.

Emmy and I cannot say enough fantastic things about James Mayhew and his Katie books. If anyone is planning a trip to London then be sure to get a copy of Katie in London beforehand and use it to prepare for the trip as well as keeping it handy as a guide to the city. If you'd like to learn more about the author and his books check out Mr. Mayhew's blog Katie's Picture Show. Emmy and I are very excited to begin reading about Ella Bella Ballerina and follow her adventures into the world of music and dance. For more information, go to Mr. Mayhew's other blog Ella Bella Ballerina.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Princess and the Potty

It was one year ago that Emmy began using the potty. This experience was fairly easy for our family with Emmy enjoying her sense of control over her body. As I was sifting through my books recently, I came across The Princess and the Potty, by Wendy Cheyette Lewison, and knew that Emmy would relate to the princess' experience even if each was a bit different.
For example:
1) The princess had no interest in trading in her "royal diaper" for a potty. Emmy quite eagerly disposed of her
diapers for a potty.
2) The princess couldn't be tempted by pottys that were polka-dotted, musical or glow-in-the-dark. Emmy was quite satisfied with the typical white potty.
3) The king and queen were mortified of what the neighbors in the next kingdom might think of their daughter still wearing a diaper. Emmy's mommy and daddy weren't so concerned about what others thought.

When the princess's desperate parents consult the royal wise man, he answers that "the princess will use the potty when it pleases her to use the potty.'' These are very wise words and ring very true for Emmy who was definitely ready.

Emmy's favorite part of the story is when the princess notices the queen's pantalettes under her dress. This is her favorite for two reasons. First the word pantalettes is just so fun to say and second the pantalettes are very, very pretty. The pantalettes prove to be the incentive the princess needed as she and her mother chose "the prettiest pair of pantalettes in the land - pantalettes fit for a princess!''

Amusingly understated, The Princes and the Potty conveys the tale's message brilliantly through art and text. Both children who are new to toilet learning and seasoned pros will be thoroughly amused by this royal tale.

For the boys out there, Ms. Lewison also wrote The Prince and the Potty. This time the royal wise man suggests getting the boy a puppy. As the puppy learns how to to do its business on a cloth, the prince is inspired to use his potty after all.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Favorite Autumn Books

Autumn is my favorite season and it seems that Emmy is feeling the same way. The leaves are so vibrant here in New England that they just take our breath away. Emmy looks up into the trees and wishes for pink leaves since pink is her favorite color.

There are a large number of books written about Autumn and many are favorites, but to help those that get overwhelmed with a long list (I'm mostly speaking about myself), Emmy and I would like to focus on just two.

The first is by Tasha Tudor who I mentioned in a previous post as one of our favorite authors. Written in 1938, Pumpkin Moonshine is a sweet Halloween story about a little girl, named Sylvie, who is searching for the perfect pumpkin to carve into a pumpkin moonshine (jack-o-lantern). Emmy laughs when the pumpkin rolls down the hill and bumps into Mr. Hemmelskamp! This weekend, we will be choosing our pumpkin to turn into a pumpkin moonshine. Emmy has drawn her ideas for the pumpkin moonshine's face and already has chosen the spoons that she will be using to scoop out the seeds and pulp.

Our second favorite Autumn book is Three Pebbles and a Song written by Eileen Spinelli. Known for her poetry, Eileen's words float off the pages beginning with... "Across the moonlit fields crackly old leaves twirled and skittered." Please, please, please read this story with your child and allow the conversation of how children contribute to their family's happiness, in their own special way, just as Moses the mouse contributed to his. Moses' contributions for winter may not have been practical, but through song, dance and juggling, Moses helped his family embrace their own creativity so much so that only Moses detects the arrival of spring. I love the subtle message of celebrating art's powers to invigorate and to sustain. Emmy likes when Moses finds a patch of pebbles and tosses them into the air, Catch-a-toss-catch.

I am always interested in how authors get their ideas for books and so would like to pass along how Eileen came up with the story for Three Pebbles and a Song.

"Sometimes I'm so eager to get to work that I don't take time to get dressed in the morning. I just run upstairs in my nightie, with a cup of tea and an idea or two. Such was the morning I began Three Pebbles and a Song. I looked at the trees outside my window. They were turning red and gold. I heard geese honking across the pond. I thought of how much I loved the changing of the seasons. How much I enjoyed getting ready for each one. Summer: dust the patio furniture. Spring: plant my herb garden. Fall: scour soup pot. Winter: play my Christmas cd's. I thought, too, about how important the arts are in all the seasons of my life.
I thought about my playful--but unsuccessful--attempts at juggling.
And I put the thoughts into words. And it was a good day."

If you are interested in developing your child's love for poetry, try this...Make copies of seasonal poems for your child and roll them up scroll-like and tie with a ribbon - orange for Autumn, red for Valentine's Day, etc. Lay the scroll beside your child's bed or on their breakfast plate and make the finding a true celebration. Jump for joy, light a candle and have a special poetry reading. Keep the poems in a binder or folder to go back to on a cold and rainy day.

By the way, Eileen's husband is also a writer! Check out Jerry Spinelli's book Stargirl (suitable for tweens and teens) - a story about a high school student who is startlingly different from everyone else. If you're like me, you'll LOVE Stargirl, given name Susan, and maybe even be inclined to start a Stargirl Society.